Commitments for Mental Illness/Substance Abuse
Each year, many Arkansans suffering from a mental illness, disease or defect are involuntary admitted into mental health facilities or programs for treatment. This procedure can be complicated. The following is a brief overview of the involuntary admission process.
Initiation of the Involuntary Admission Procedure
The procedure for the involuntary admission of a mentally ill person is initiated by filing a petition in the circuit court of the county where the mentally ill person resides. Anyone may file a petition if they believe that another person poses a clear and present danger to himself/herself or others as a result of a mental illness, disease, or disorder. Our office will assist the petitioner with this process.
If the person named in the original petition is not confined at the time the petition is filed, then the Respondent (person with mental illness) should be served a copy of the petition, a statement of rights, and a notice to appear for an initial hearing. The hearing will be set within three (3) days of the filing of the petition, excluding weekends or holidays.
A petition for involuntary admission should be limited to the petitioner’s first-hand, personal knowledge, contain the names and addresses of any witnesses having knowledge relevant to the allegations contained in the petition, contain a specific request for the involuntary admission of the person to a hospital or receiving facility and it must state whether the person is believed to be of danger to self or others.
Situations arise where the mentally ill person is in need of immediate inpatient care due to the person’s mental condition. In these instances, proceeding with a hearing before the person is hospitalized is not practical. The law provides for two limited situations in which a mentally ill person can be immediately confined for treatment. One means is through the process referred to as immediate detention. The petitioner can attach to the petition a request for the immediate confinement of the affected person. The request should state facts personally known to the petitioner which establish reasonable cause to believe that the person sought to be involuntarily admitted is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm, or that others are in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm as a result of the mental state of the person.
Once the petition and request for immediate detention are filed, the petitioner should appear before a circuit judge of the county where the mentally ill person resides or is found. The judge then conducts an ex parte hearing to determine if there is reasonable cause to believe that the person meets the criteria for involuntary admission and the criteria for immediate detention. If the judge determines that immediate detention is necessary, the judge will order the law enforcement agency that exercises jurisdiction at the site where the individual is physically present to transport the individual to an appropriate mental health receiving facility (NOTE: “Appropriate mental health receiving facility” does not equate to a jail cell). This ex parte hearing is not a substitute for an initial hearing. An initial hearing must still be held within seventy-two (72) hours of the person’s detention.
In a true emergency situation, a concerned citizen may take a person to a hospital or receiving facility or program. However, if this cannot be accomplished safely, it shall be the responsibility of the law enforcement agency to transport the individual.
Once the person arrives at a hospital or receiving facility, a physician must decide whether the person’s condition warrants admission. If admission is warranted, and the person refuses to admit himself/herself, then the physician can initiate a seventy-two (72) hour hold and the person will be admitted against his will. This situation is referred to in the mental health field as an “emergency hold.” A petition must be filed in the circuit court of the county in which the individual resides or is initially detained within seventy-two (72) hours, from the time of detention, excluding weekends or holidays. An initial hearing must then be held within three business days of the filing of the petition.
The prosecuting attorney’s office will represent the petitioner in all hearings regardless of his financial status. However, the Prosecutor Coordinator’s Office shall represent the petitioner and the State of Arkansas at hearings held on the grounds of the Arkansas State Hospital. Please note that a petitioner may hire a private attorney for these proceedings. If this occurs, the prosecuting attorney or prosecutor coordinator will be relieved of this duty.
Rights of Person Sought to be Involuntarily Admitted
Persons sought to be involuntarily admitted have certain rights in involuntary admission hearings. These persons are entitled to appointed counsel if the court determines that counsel is needed. The counsel shall be appointed immediately upon filing of the petition.
In addition, the alleged mentally ill person shall be served a copy of the petition, an order directing appearance for an initial evaluation or an order of detention, and a copy of the following statement of rights:
- The right to effective assistance of counsel, including the right to a court-appointed attorney;
- Right to be present, along with his/her attorney, at all significant stages of the proceedings and at all hearings; except no attorney shall be entitled to be present upon examination of the person by the physician or any member of the treatment staff pursuant to an evaluation, whether initially, or subsequently;
- Right to present evidence on own behalf;
- Right to cross-examine witnesses who testify against him/her;
- Right to remain silent;
- Right to view and copy all petitions, reports, and documents contained in the court file.
Once the petition is filed, the initial or probable cause hearing is set. It must be held within three (3) days from the filing of the petition, excluding weekends or holidays.
At the hearing the court will hear testimony and make a determination based on clear and convincing evidence whether there is probable cause to believe that the person has a mental illness, disease, or disorder and that one (1) of the criteria for involuntary admission applies to the person. The criteria for involuntary admission are:
- The person is a clear and present danger to himself/herself as established by the fact that:
- The person has inflicted serious bodily injury on himself/herself or has attempted suicide or serious self-injury and there is a reasonable probability that such conduct will be repeated if admission is not ordered; or
- The person has threatened to inflict serious bodily injury on himself/herself and there is a reasonable probability that such conduct will occur if admission is not ordered; or
- The person’s behavior demonstrates that he so lacks the capacity to care for his own welfare that there is a reasonable probability of death, serious bodily injury, or serious physical or mental debilitation if admission is not ordered.
- The person is a clear and present danger to others as shown by the fact that the person has inflicted, attempted to inflict or threatened to inflict serious bodily harm on another, and there is a reasonable probability that such conduct will occur if admission is not ordered.
Overview and Procedure for Involuntary Drug and Alcohol Admissions
Arkansas law allows for the involuntary admission of persons suffering from alcohol and/or drug addiction. Any person having reason to believe a person is homicidal, suicidal or gravely disabled due to drug or alcohol addiction may file a petition seeking involuntary treatment of the addicted person. The petition alleging one or more of these criteria is filed with the circuit court of the county where the person sought to be involuntarily admitted for treatment resides or is detained. The person filing the petition is referred to as the “Petitioner,” and the one sought to be involuntarily admitted is referred to as the “Respondent.” A person may be admitted for treatment for an initial period of twenty-one (21) days. Additional forty-five (45) day periods of admission may be obtained prior to the expiration of the initial twenty-one day commitment if the treatment team recommends it and files the extension petition.
The Petition Process
The petition shall:
- State whether the person is believed to be homicidal, suicidal or gravely disabled.
- Describe the conduct, clinical signs, and/or symptoms upon which the petition is based and which are within the petitioner’s “personal knowledge” (first-hand knowledge in which the petitioner either saw the respondent do an act or heard respondent say certain things).
- Contain the names and addresses of witnesses having relevant knowledge of the allegations.
- Contain a request for admission to an appropriate facility, including inpatient or outpatient treatment.
The petitioner may be represented by the prosecuting attorney or any other attorney licensed to practice in the State of Arkansas. The Office of the Prosecutor Coordinator appears for and on behalf of the petitioner and the State at hearings held in Pulaski County on the grounds of the Arkansas State Hospital. However, all petitioners are free to retain private counsel. The person sought to be involuntarily admitted is entitled to counsel. The court may appoint such counsel immediately upon the filing of the petition and shall determine the amount of the fee to be paid.
Procedure for Immediate Detention
Any person filing a petition as described above may attach a request for immediate detention, which must be verified and shall:
- State with particularity facts personally known to the affiant which establish reasonable cause to believe the person is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm.
- State whether the person is currently detained in a receiving facility.
- Contain a specific request that the person be immediately detained at a designated receiving facility, pending a hearing.
Hearing on Petition
A hearing will be set by the court within five (5) days of the filing of the petition, excluding weekends and holidays. The petitioner must appear before the circuit judge to substantiate the allegations of the petition. After the presentation of evidence, the judge determines whether the standards for involuntary commitment apply. If the judge finds sufficient evidence, the person shall be admitted to a designated treatment facility for treatment for up to twenty-one (21) days. Within forty-eight (48) hours of being admitted, an evaluation shall be conducted. The treatment team may petition for an additional forty-five (45) days of treatment.
At any time during detention, the person may be converted to voluntary status if his certified substance abuse counselor files a written statement of consent with the court. The court shall immediately dismiss the petition upon the filing of such statement.
Any person who believes they are addicted to alcohol or drugs may apply to a receiving facility or program for admission. If after examination the administrator of the facility or his designee is satisfied the person is in need of treatment and will benefit by such treatment, the person may be treated for such period of time as the administrator deems necessary, provided the person agrees to remain in the facility.